Here’s a meeting of two great cultural minds: filmmaker Wim Wenders (‘Pina’) and Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, whose vision and compassion turned his camera into an indispensable witness of inhumanity in the twentieth-century. Wenders (co-directing with the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) reverently details every chapter of Salgado’s life, tracing his evolution from an economist to photographer, layering the 71-year-old’s wistful reflections over a breathtaking selection of monochrome photographs.
His most renowned images are projected onto a semi-transparent mirror, Salgado standing in front, his silhouette clouding the photographs (and vice versa) in a succinct expression of how inextricable the artist is from his art. Although ‘The Salt of the Earth’ is peppered with new and archival footage of Salgado at work (it’s a delight to see the old man barrelling along a stony beach to sneak up on a seal for the perfect shot), the film often plays like an annotated slideshow.
One frame at a time, we follow along as Salgado isolates moments from the Ethiopian cholera epidemic to the Rwandan genocide, his faith in humanity wavering with every new atrocity. ‘Everyone should see these images,’ he concludes, ‘to see how terrible our species is’. But while Wenders makes the case that Salgado found peace, his documentary ultimately lets its subject slide out of focus.